Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I'm back from speaking at the Duke Conference. I loved it.

Below is a photo taken by Gary Wang - mentioned below - back in 1996. He and some friends painted over nearly the entire Duke bridge, wiping out everything except for a lone rose, which they incorporated into the "we were bored" phrase. He did not know me at the time -- and didn't know I'd painted that rose for my sorority, AOII!

Favorite moments at the Duke conference included:

Feeling 10 years younger because everything reminded me of my college years.

Conversations about the ontology/metaphysics/meaning of art and music and life.

Reuniting with my friend Juliessa.

And who would have thought Duke had produced so many artists? Just to name a few...

Ray Eddy went into consulting after graduating from Duke, then went back to Duke for a masters in teaching. He then worked for UNC at Chapel Hill in their student affairs office, before leaving them to start his own company, a band camp and band instruction group. There's more. He then won a job at Universal Studios as the stunt man who plays Indiana Jones. And I thought I had an outlandish career story!!

Ge Wang (a.k.a., Gary) forged a career in "research and education at the intersection of computer science and music." He is an assistant professor of music at Stanford, where he creates and uses audio software to build orchestral surround-sound musical experiences. And he has a talent for visual art, too: he never mentioned a word about it during the conference, but a quick visit to his website reveals his sketchbook portfolio.

Viswa Subbaraman has co-founded an opera company in Houston, Texas, where he is also artistic director and conductor. His talent as a conductor has won him a Fulbright scholarship and international recognition. He makes me want to listen to more classical music and expand my horizons.

Lynn Ennis is an artist who's main medium is other artists. That is to say, she's a museum curator at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. I was anxious to meet her, and was so glad to find her friendly and encouraging. I'm hoping she will soon join blogger and start writing!

Mark Mosrie is a renowned professional photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee. His portfolio speaks for itself, but I'll add one word: gorgeous. He's traveled the world, and the world is lucky.

Plus I met lots of students with interesting stories of their own. Who knows, maybe Dana Salah will be a voice we hear in the music world one day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sharing My Portfolio


My career story is a love story. I just realized that.

Art was my first love. I started out as a dreamy-eyed little girl who wanted nothing more than to read fairytales and draw pictures of princesses. The books changed to Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters, and the pictures became portraits and life-drawn sketches, but for the most part, that dreamy identity remained astonishingly intact all the way through the rough and tumble of high school.

When I went to Duke, I took the Arts Focus classes, staffed the literary magazine and contributed art and poetry to its pages, and joined AOII, where I provided the sorority its every t-shirt design, poster design, and bridge painting. I drew more portraits. I studied abroad in Paris, where I visited an endless supply of museums from the Louvre to the Musee d'Orsay to Rodin to Picasso. And I drew more portraits. In my senior year, Duke Student Government commissioned me to create the art for a poster advertising that year's Homecoming festivities. They paid me $550 and I was thrilled.

My love for art was hands-on, tangible, vibrant: a living thing. My interest in law lay more in the line of a detached admiration. I appreciated the legal dramas I saw on TV and other media; I greatly respected what lawyers were able to achieve. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of my favorite books, but I wanted to be writing the novel, or painting the courtroom scene, not arguing the case.

Does any of this sound like someone headed for law school? No.

But at the same time, law was a suitor that was more than willing to have me. My LSAT score and my grades, especially in the English classes, made me a great catch, and the University of Florida, the one school I'd applied to, opened welcoming arms. My family approved of the match: not one of them had ever been an attorney, and I believe that made them all the more convinced that it was the perfect career choice. I felt pressure to choose the career that was steady, lucrative, and respected. I was sure I did not have the guts to stomach a life wedded to the volatile, self-revelatory world of art.

So, I went to law school. I stayed away from art for the next three years, and I had to force myself through each day of studying precedent and statutes. But I didn't want to be a quitter. I worked hard, graduated with honors and a certificate for commitment to pro bono work, passed the Bar on my first try, and felt extremely proud. I tried to persuade myself that I was well-matched to this career. I even took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test online and fudged the answers to make it say that my personality was best-suited to become an advocate/counselor/lawyer. I told myself I didn't miss art at all.

Then I went to work. I started out with a boutique law firm that took national cases, defending individuals and corporations accused of white-collar crimes. I hated it. I was working long hours, including occasional all-nighters, and my brain was so busy running on a work treadmill that it was starving for downtime, for dreaminess and idle philosophizing. I started to view my impressive downtown skyscraper office as a prison, and my impressive tailored suits felt like prison-wear.

I tried a different type of law firm, one that was smaller-scale, more laid-back and casual, and which offered more pro bono services. The firm worked mostly with plaintiff's personal injury claims and class action suits. Life was better, but it still felt weirdly... wrong.

Around this time, my boyfriend of that past year proposed to me. I accepted, but my intuition told me he was the wrong person for me. I broke off the engagement within the month. I began to consider that maybe a career was a sort of marriage. If so, I'd gotten married to LAW too quickly. I had settled for the wrong “person.”

Just a few months after breaking off my engagement, I followed by
breaking up with my career. And over the course of the next several months, I focused on gathering up the courage to revisit my old love, to see if Art would take me back.

Art and I reunited, and everything was amazing: passion, fireworks, better than ever before. I still felt afraid of the risks, but I was buoyed with optimism, thrilled with possibilities.

That was the honeymoon period. I had to wake up to the fact that even work you love – is work. I had to discover unknown wells within myself of discipline, motivation, and time-management. Maybe a marriage between a husband and wife is like that, too.

In a law firm, you have three categories of worker: the grinder, the minder, and the finder. The grinder cranks out the grueling (billable) hours and is least well-paid. The minder manages the business affairs. The finder finds clients, is most valuable, and best-paid. When you are a one-person business enterprise, you are grinder, minder, and finder. Fortunately, I love this grind, and I'm not too bad at minding shop. And the finding is often my favorite part, because it feels so good when people appreciate my art, and/or take interest in this crazy love story at the heart of my career change.

In the end, every day that I wake up and make art for my living is another day of creating my own happily ever after. I don't have the whole canvas painted yet, but I'm working on it...

Photos in this post show my Sketch of a Model (above top) and an image, taken by a friend, of a rainbow landing on my home studio (above right).

Friday, January 11, 2008

I am reading Four Seasons in Rome, by Anthony Doerr, and I just read a section that reminds me of the blog post I wrote back in October of 2006 on "drawing and painting"...

This excerpt offers Doerr's take on the importance of true observation:

In 1976, a doctoral student at the University of Nottingham in England demonstrated that randomizing letters in the middle of words had no effect on the ability of readers to understand sentences. In tihs setncene, for emalxpe, ervey scarbelmd wrod rmenias bcilasaly leibgle. Why? Because we are deeply accustomed to seeing letters arranged in certain patterns. Because the eye is in a rush, and the brain, eager to locate meaning, makes assumptions.

This is true of phrases too. An author writes "crack of dawn" or "sidelong glance" or "crystal clear" and the reader's eye continues on, at ease with combinations of words it has encountered innumerable times before. But does the reader, or the writer, actually expend the energy to see what is cracking at dawn or what is clear about a crystal?

The mind craves ease; it encourages the senses to recognize symbols, to gloss. It makes maps of our kitchen drawers and neighborhood streets; it fashions a sort of algebra out of life. And this is useful, even essential---X is the route to work, Y is the heft and feel of a nickel between your fingers. Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We'd pass out every time we saw---actually saw---a flower. Imagine if we only got to see a cumulonimbus cloud or Cassiopeia or a snowfall once a century: there'd be pandemonium in the streets. People would lie by the thousands in the fields on their backs.

We need habit to get through a day, to get to work, to feed our children. But habit is dangerous, too. The act of seeing can quickly become unconscious and automatic. The eye sees something---gray-brown bark, say, fissured into broad, vertical plates---and the brain spits out tree trunk and the eye moves on. But did I really take the time to see the tree? I glimpse hazel hair, high cheekbones, a field of freckles, and I think Shauna. But did I take the time to see my wife?

"Habitualization," a Russian army-commissar-turned-literary-critic named Viktor Shklovsky wrote in 1917, "devours works, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war." What he argued is that, over time, we stop perceiving familiar things---words, friends, apartments---as they truly are. To eat a banana for the thousandth time is nothing like eating a banana for the first time. To have sex with somebody for the thousandth time is nothing like having sex with that person for the first time. The easier an experience, or the more entrenched, or the more familiar, the fainter our sensation of it becomes. This is true of chocolate and marriages and hometowns and narrative structures. Complexities wane, miracles become unremarkable, and if we're not careful, pretty soon we're gazing out at our lives as through a burlap sack.

In the Tom Andrew Studio I open my journal and stare out at the trunk of the umbrella pine and do my best to fight off the atrophy that comes from seeing things too frequently. I try to shape a few sentences around this tiny corner of Rome; I try to force my eye to slow down. A good journal entry---like a good song, or sketch, or photograph---ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.

Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar. Only then can routine experience---buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello---become new all over again.

-----Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

I love that. It inspires me to paint, to write, and to simply appreciate.

Photo shows my "Holding and Beholding" oil painting (above right).